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Candidate Seeking Democratic Endorsement Was Registered Republican Prior To Run

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA
A campaign sign for Tony Moreno in Pittsburgh's Brighton Heights neighborhood.

Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Tony Moreno says he expected his social-media history -- which as Pittsburgh City Paper and WTAE have reported includes years-old Tweets supporting Donald Trump and castigating Democrats -- would come back to haunt him. He was, he said, being “bombastic” in an effort to voice his anger over the state of politics. 

 

But Moreno, a retired city police officer and Army veteran from Brighton Heights, did more than just tweet out his concern at the time.

 

 

County voting records show that, after voting for more than two decades as a Democrat, Moreno changed his registration to Republican in April 2018, voted as a Republican in the 2018 general and 2019 primary -- and then switched back to Democrat August 22, 2019.

 

That was roughly one month before he gave his first interview as a candidate, to the Tribune-Review, in September of 2019. And it was just over a week after an Aug. 14 tweet -- first spotted by WTAE-TV -- in which he said, “I’m running for mayor in Pittsburgh as an (R). We haven’t elected an R since 1934.” 

 

Moreno told WTAE that he had tweeted that by mistake: “There's no way to run as a Republican in the City of Pittsburgh,” he said. And on Thursday he told WESA that it would be “preposterous” to think he had changed his registration back to Democrat simply to set up a mayoral run.

 

“There is no way I represent myself policy-wise that sounds like a Republican,” he said. 

 

Indeed, Moreno seemed to sound few sour notes during a Tuesday-night online gathering of 14th Ward Democrats, among the city’s most liberal. He discussed the need to offer job opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, called for more funding for childcare to help working parents, and decried a lack of police accountability -- especially among supervisors. He cited statistics about displaced Black residents and falling rates of homeownership. 

 

But back in 2018, Moreno said, he switched to the GOP  for much the same reason that he tweeted the statements that have attracted so much scrutiny: to provoke a reaction.

 

He said he left the party after becoming disenchanted with “how split apart it’s all become. The Democrat Party is being fractured and needs to be healed” -- a state of affairs he blames in large part on “the socialist factor” and efforts to bring the party further left.

 

“I really thought, ‘I’m gonna make a point. I’m gonna switch and go down [to my voting place] and see what happens,'” he said. He was, he said, a “good Democrat” -- and records show he voted in either the general election or the primary every year since the mid-1990s, and voted in both contests for all but seven of them. “But nobody said anything. ... And I was like, ‘This is the problem.’” 

 

“I went on a rumspringa and nobody knew I was gone,” he said, referring to an Amish rite-of-passage in which adolescents leave the communities to see the wider world. 

 

Moreno came back to the Democratic fold a year the next year and said, he didn’t feel represented in the GOP either. “There is nothing in the Republican Party for me.”

 

“I could have gone independent, and a lot of people are asking me to do that,” he said. But “if we can fix what’s going on in the Democrat Party, we can make decisions that would be good for everybody.” But first, he said, the party “needs to be fixed. It needs to be represented correctly.” 

 

For a first-time candidate, Moreno raised a respectable $45,000 last year, and says he built up his understanding of the city’s problems by learning from the ground-up.

“I wasn’t invited into the party to do this, I didn’t ask for permission,” he said. Lacking the money or name recognition of Mayor Bill Peduto and challenger state Rep. Ed Gainey, “I went from one neighborhood to the next and talked to people on their doorsteps.” 

 

The tweets gave him a kind of name recognition few candidates would seek -- especially because Moreno is seeking the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

 

Moreno said that since his old tweets surfaced, “I’ve lost a little support, just because people are so anti-President Trump. But for the most part I’ve held onto support because these people have seen me for the past year-and-a-half.”

 

How much support he still has will be apparent this weeknd. Committeepeople are mailing in ballots for the party’s endorsement now, with the winner having the imprimatur of party insiders. Peduto is not seeking the endorsement at all: Gainey, himself a longtime committee member, is competing for it. The ballots will be counted on Sunday. 

 

Moreno said that the condemnation of his tweets came as little surprise. When deciding to run, he said, “You go through the things that you’re going to be attacked on.” He noted that after he launched his bid, state House candidate Heather Kass received heavy criticism last year for Facebook boasts that celebrated Trump and mocked opioid addicts. “When that happened, I knew I would get beat up with it," Moreno said.

 

Moreno’s tweets prompted Kevin Quigley, who’d been photographed with the candidate in a social-media post that has also surfaced, to issue a statement decrying Moreno’s Trump support. Quigley said party leaders "unequiovcally disapprove" of statements supporting Trump, and that if Moreno won, he would "immediately convene a special meeting for the members to consider how we may address this in accordance with our bylaws."

 

Quigley also alleged that Peduto was trying to line up support for Moreno, presumably to deny the endorsement to rival Ed Gainey, arguably the larger threat to the incumbent’s reelection. Peduto’s campaign has denied that, and Moreno says he is unaware of any such effort, though he claims to have received backing from Peduto supporters who are disappointed in his administration. 

 

Party insiders say that Moreno has worked hard for the endorsement, doing the kind of retail politicking with committee members that can pay dividends. But Gainey himself “speaks fluent committee,” as one party insider put it: He formerly chaired the city committee and frequently appears at party gatherings even when he is not facing a challenger. And many insiders worry that a strong performance by Moreno to cause further headaches for a party still smarting from the party’s backing of Kass -- and snubs of candidates like progressive Black state House member Summer Lee

 

As for Moreno, he said that regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s vote, “I’m going forward with the campaign because I am speaking for the people in the neighborhoods -- the people who are most underrepresented. Even if [the endorsement vote] is close, it is proof positive that the city is ready to get things done in a better fashion.”